Combative activism on our campus is drowning out other, quieter voices in the Columbia community. While some students feel that bringing about important change on campus is best accomplished through impassioned activism and coalition-building, there are others who prefer not to participate in such movements. That does not mean that non-activists are unaware of the issues or lack opinions about them. Although the opinion may not be present in public or private forums, we should not ignore those who remain unspoken.
With this in mind, it is especially important to consider the "silent majority" when crucial decisions about policy changes, like the proposals to amend the University Rules of Conduct, are being made. When activists are the only ones who are able to have their views heard, how will the rest of student public opinion be heard when decisions are made? Students within the silent majority are not simply "randoms" who attend a town hall out of sheer curiosity—they represent an important part of the student body that must be respectfully heard and acknowledged.
The unheard students on campus have valuable insights and represent a spectrum of opinions on many different issues that affect Columbia. But many of these students do not know how or may not desire to publish their thoughts publicly. But to make sure all opinions are represented at the table, activists must make room for the quieter students at Columbia.
Consequently, Columbia's activists should be cognizant of their increasingly acerbic language and adjust it because because they are not representatives for the entire student body. Not everyone thinks that free speech is under threat or that the University is intentionally trying to silence student voices. Claims that the actions of No Red Tape Columbia, the Columbia University College Republicans, and students who took part in the People's Climate March would have been charged as violations of University Conduct is misleading and speculative at best. This kind of allegation perpetuates an "us versus administrators" myth that has been all too prevalent in the tone of some of our more outspoken classmates.
The administration is not incapable of lending a friendly hand to students who wish to forward important projects. Administrators deserve due credit for their cooperation for actions like organizing town halls that gauge student preferences for the implementation of new policies. One such recent example was Voting Week, a collaborative endeavor conducted by students, administrators, faculty, and various ideologically different students and political groups. Voting Week was a pioneering initiative to increase civic engagement at Columbia. Student volunteers and administrators implemented a successful project, registering over 400 voters and absentee ballot requests, while speading knowledge about local politics.
If issues like voter apathy can be addressed working with administrators, why do we as students often find ourselves working against them? Undoubtedly, some of the issues that have arisen at Columbia have to do with the administration itself. We need not look any further than the recent scrutiny of the university's handling of sexual assault on campus. But while we do not agree with everything that the Low Library officials do from week to week, it is important not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" or assume that the trustees, President Bollinger, and other administrators don't care about students.
Without a doubt, the Columbia students who have spearheaded campus movements should be proud of their impact on the community around them. They have raised awareness about critical issues, which affect not only Columbia, but also many other college campuses around the country. However, there is an increasingly pressing need for soft-spoken students—non-activists in particular—to join the town halls and negotiate processes surrounding the revision of important policies on sexual assault, divestment from prisons and fossil fuel companies, and the University Rules themselves. We need to steer away from accusatory dialogue about administration and remember that these are issues that affect us all, not just the activists.
We invite all students who are reading this op-ed to change the tone of student activism around university policies. To do this, we are announcing that the Columbia Political Union will launch a polling initiative in conjunction with Student Engagement, which will gather the opinions and thoughts of all populations here at Columbia. With this data, collected by students and compiled into a report, the Columbia Political Union would like to submit our findings directly to the University Senate and the relevant administrative offices, not just with voices of the activists on campus, but with the full weight of the student public opinion.
David Kang is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and the director of operations for the Columbia Political Union. Cameron Fegers is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science and a lead activist for the Columbia University College Democrats.
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